Bobcats are very difficult to hunt because they are among the most reclusive, elusive, and wariest animals on the North American continent. But they are relatively easy to kill because they are comparatively small animals, only about twice the size of a house cat or feral cat, with weights ranging from 9 to 30-plus pounds. A 30-pound male is a big bobcat; the average adult is about 20 to 25 pounds. You don’t need a lot of gun or a magnum load to kill a bobcat.
What you do need is a load that will anchor the cat right on the spot with a solid hit and a gun you can shoot very quickly with precise, first-shot accuracy. You’ll seldom get a follow-up shot. Bobcats, like all felines, are extremely resilient. If not hit “dead right there,” a bobcat will streak away like, well, a scalded cat.
A wounded or “dead later” bobcat can be very hard to find or track because they’re so small and naturally color-camoed, and they don’t leave big tracks or much of a blood trail (unless really ripped up). So unless you can deliver pinpoint accuracy on a target that’s small to begin with, which is likely to be showing you only a small part of itself in the first place, in a sudden and short window of opportunity, you’re not going to have much chance of success. No matter what you’re armed with.
Hunting bobcats with a handgun rather than a rifle or shotgun adds even more challenge to the task. It’s much more difficult to make a precisely placed shot on a small target with a handheld firearm than with a gun that has a shoulder stock, particularly under sudden-encounter hunting conditions—even at distances of only 20 to 50 yards, which is where the majority of cats I’ve ever seen called first appeared. You tend not to see bobcats farther out because they’re not as big as coyotes, can be invisible in much shorter grass or thinner brush, and tend to slither up on their approach. Of course, a handgun can also be quicker to deploy on-target than a shoulder-fired gun if the animal first appears to your hard right or hard left or behind you.
Preparing Your Ambush
If you’re going to try taking a bobcat with a handgun, you need to carefully consider the basics of bobcat technique even before you choose your gun and load and sights. Bobcats never come “charging” pell-mell toward a call like coyotes (or even foxes). Instead, they make a very cautious, circular, silent approach while maintaining cover. If they smell you, they’re gone. If they see you, they’re gone. If it just doesn’t “feel right” to them, they’re gone. They’re small (and know how to make themselves smaller) and can get really close without you seeing them. You’ll never even know they were near. So you need to hunt them from ambush.
The best kind of ambush position is from above—in a tree or a ladder stand that’s been in position for a while and isn’t “new” to your quarry’s eyes or nose. Like most ground-based predators (including people), bobcats do not tend to look up; they stay close to the ground, under cover, looking for things at their level. An elevated position offers your best chance of looking down into that cover (scanning 360 degrees, right?) and seeing sign of the cat’s movement at a farther distance away. Being elevated will also help ensure that your scent doesn’t spread out at ground level and linger (it goes without saying that you are going to make sure you are hunting scent-free). Come into your stand location like a ghost. Don’t spook the squirrels; don’t send the birds squawking away. The cat will know.
Bobcats tend to be most active (hunting) from right before dusk until about midnight, then again right before dawn until an hour or two after (daytime bobcat hunting is a waste of time). Always try to be settled well into your position a couple hours before their likely movement times. Start calling when it’s light enough to see to shoot and quit when it’s not (unless it’s legal to use night vision).
If you don’t use a radio-remote call, your chances of getting struck by lightning in your stand are better than seeing a bobcat. Put the call at ground level, positioned where you can look down into as much area around it as possible. One of the most successful bobcat hunters I know actually sets a taxidermist’s full-body bobcat mount on the ground near the call’s location. It definitely gets their attention. Using a wiggling “fur lure” on the call can also be effective (piques their curiosity). Don’t call continuously. Call for about 10 to 12 seconds, with intervals of five to eight minutes between. Use varied calls. It’s not unusual for coyotes or foxes to come to a call before a bobcat does (he’s just hanging back, taking it all in). Be patient! It can take up to an hour to call in a cat. Now, what should you shoot him with?
Choosing the Right Tools
For any hunter, and particularly for a handgun hunter, choosing the cartridge appropriate for the quarry (and for the ranges at which shots will be taken) should always come before the choice of a particular gun. There are lots of successful bobcat rifle hunters who use the .22 LR. And if you’re talking about always making a precisely aimed head shot, at distances no farther than 50 yards, the .22 LR will serve just fine. But a head shot is about it for an instant-dead .22 LR hit on a bobcat. Even a solid kill-zone .22 LR body shot will seldom anchor it, and you’ll likely never track it because there will be zero blood spoor at all. That’s no good because you definitely want that bobcat rug for your wall.
For handgunning bobcats my lower limit is the .22 WMR. In the right gun it stretches your range out to 100 yards. And with the new, effective-upset bullet loadings available in offerings like Hornady’s 45-grain FTX Critical Defense (which is also optimized for velocity in shorter barrels) and Winchester’s 34-grain Varmint High Energy loads, you have quick-kill capability for a well-placed heart-lung shot as well. But the .22 WMR is my lower limit because if you hit that cat anywhere except the head or the heart with a .22 WMR, he’ll be gone, even if he dies later. For a handgun, I actually want something with more zip.
At the upper end of the power-and-reach range for bobcats, my favorite round is the venerable .221 Fireball—specifically Remington’s 50-grain Premier AccuTip-V boattail load. It will give you a reach all the way out to 150 yards should you spot an approaching kitty that far out; it has a very flat trajectory for minimal compensation anywhere between there and as close as 20 yards; and it has a lot less recoil than the .223. Plus, its accuracy is legendary, for those precisely placed between-the-eyes shots all the way out.
But what about more “conventional” handgun cartridges? One that I’m particularly fond of as a bobcat choice is the .32 H&R Magnum. Loads like Hornady’s new 80-grain FTX Critical Defense or Federal Premium’s 85-grain JHP are nearly ideal for bobcat-size game. The limiting factor here is range. Anything beyond 50 yards is, of course, going to present trajectory and energy problems, but in all my years of calling bobcats, I’ve only had one stop and stand where I could shoot him beyond that distance anyway.
Bigger than these .32-caliber loads, the .357 Magnum is as far as I’ll go in choosing a specific handgun bobcat cartridge. It’s certainly powerful enough, and accurate enough in the right gun, but it has the same practical range limitations for the average marksman. Realistically, it’s overkill—although I’ve carried a scoped .357 Magnum on several bobcat expeditions. As for even bigger magnums like the .41 or .44, well, remember rule No. 3 of smart hunting: Always carry enough gun, but don’t carry more gun than you need or can shoot accurately enough.
What about the choice of handgun itself? Any of the above cartridges will work just fine for bobcats in any Thompson/Center Contender or G2 chambered for them. T/C’s guns are all superbly accurate, with crisp, clean trigger pulls for bobcat hunting’s need for precise shot placement. Remember, your quick-kill target zone on a bobcat is only about 3 inches in diameter (maximum), so that’s what you need to be able to hit—every time—whether at 20 yards or 150 yards. If your gun won’t deliver that, you have the wrong gun for that shot.
I’ve also used a Remington XP-100 in .221 Fireball for many years on predator hunts, particularly when coyotes as well as bobcats might be coming to the call. And I’ve carried .32 H&R and even .357 Magnum hunting revolvers for bobcat calling when I knew the terrain and vegetation wasn’t really going to allow shots past 50 to 75 yards.
Sights? I’ve carried an iron-sighted Ruger .32 H&R Single-Six for bobcats, but only when calling in the thickest vegetation. For anything except the closest shots, iron sights just don’t permit the necessary shot-placement precision. An optical sight is a near-necessity for a bobcat handgun. My .357 Magnum bobcat revolver wears a 1.5-5X scope. My bobcat-hunting XP-100 and T/C Contenders generally have 2-7X or 2.5-8X scopes, all dialed down to minimum magnification unless—and until—something shows itself farther away than up close in my face. A crisp, bright-dot electronic sight with a minimum subtension is also a good choice for close shots.
And an accessory I nearly always carry for any handgun hunting is a single-point shoulder sling attached to the butt ofthe gun. It not only allows convenient, hands-free carry, but it can be adjusted so that when I bring the gun up to fire, it positions itself at exactly the right eye-relief distance for my optic and adds a tripod-stable steadiness to my aim—almost bench-rest steady. It’s been particularly helpful when scanning 360 degrees from an elevated stand for a bobcat moving in toward a call and finding I needed to take a twisted-position shot.
Bobcat hunting is challenging with any firearm. Bobcat hunting with a handgun adds even more to that challenge. Choosing the right handgun, with the right cartridge and the right optic, will give your personal hunter-success percentage its best chance of not dropping into the single digits.